Friday, 24 August 2012

Why Orwell is Relevant

With news that outgoing BBC Director General Mark Thompson turned down the idea of having a statue of George Orwell outside its new HQ, it has been occasion for some journalists such as Geoffrey Wheatcroft in The Guardian to remind us of 'Why Orwell is Relevant Today'.

In my opinion Orwell matters due to the clarity of his thought and his belief that political language and unquestioned conformity could corrupt thought. As such he is bound to matter in 2012 when the techniques of organised political lying are routine and commonplace and known as "spin".

The problem is that many have taken Orwell out of context and tried to claim his mantle by posing as fearless enemies of totalitarianism. Nick Cohen fails miserably in that pose as did Christopher Hitchens in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003.

By crudely lumping all their opponents who opposed the Iraq War as some new fangled version of the old apologists for Stalin in the 1930s ( this time it was Saddam Hussein ) they were fighting polemical wars against obsolete enemies. Saddam's totalitarian state was simply not bent on an expansionist agenda

It was fairly obvious that the so called "anti-war" left comprised of those such as Galloway who fawned on Castro's Cuba and Respect was a sinister Islamo-Bolshevik party that rationalised terrorism and authoritarian regimes if they happened to be against the USA.

But the point was that the "anti-war" groups were hardly as important as the level of mendacious lying and spin that was used as a pretext to invade Iraq and the use of the 9/11 terror attacks to launch wars as part of a geopolitical plan to control global energy supplies.

Orwell was brilliant on the perversions, lies and distortions used by the power hungry no less that the cowardice and hypocrisy of those who did not posses the "power of facing". In 2012 that would include those who bleat "No War for Oil" whilst demanding higher living standards.

In The Road to Wigan Pier ( 1937 ), Orwell wrote a passage that could apply to all those self styled "anti-imperialist" sorts of sloganeering poseurs who fail to grasp that it is precisely continued over dependence upon access to oil that underpins their consumer comforts.

    For in the last resort, the only important question is. Do you want the British Empire to hold together or do you want it to disintegrate? And at the bottom of his heart no Englishman, least of all the kind of person who is witty about Anglo-Indian colonels, does want it to disintegrate. For, apart from any other consideration, the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa. Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation — an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes. That is the very last thing that any left-winger wants. Yet the left-winger continues to feel that he has no moral responsibility for imperialism. He is perfectly ready to accept the products of Empire and to save his soul by sneering at the people who hold the Empire together.

Likewise, every time you turn on the ignition in your car you acquiesce in a future of resource wars such as Iraq. And every time you buy cheap goods made in sweatshops in the developing world you acquiesce in that. To that extent it is worth asking whether we really oppose our leaders as much as we pretend.

It is a useful exercise to pin down several reason why Orwell matters in 2012 so that the discussion of his intellectual legacy does not become a sort of sensational exercise in why we have a 1984 style totalitarian state in Britain at the moment as some bizarrely claim ( we do not ).

1984 was a predictive political essay in many ways and a satire on the trend towards the power hungry everywhere. As such it has relevance now only as a whole to North Korea as a fully developed totalitarian state. As a whole from his essays and fiction I would say in 2012 they are:

1) The Power of Facing' unpleasant facts against Wish Thinking

This would apply to all those who completely deny that wars are about resources or who assume wars can only ever be about resources organised by an elite to enrich themselves and in which "we" are not in any sense part of or benefit from. In extreme form, this leads to conspiracy theories of the sort offered by David Icke.

2) The Concept of Transferred Nationalism.

That because wars such as Iraq are crucially concerned with control of oil that any Great Power that opposes the USA are to be lauded. In that relation one need only think of the jargon of ex-CPGB ideologue Martin Jacques in presenting the rise of Chinese global power as a "systemic alternative" .

3) The Perversions of Doublethink.

That those who lambast the double standards of the USA by default then tend to fall into the mental trap of tending to support without reserve, or else rationalise without further thought, any organisation or power blocs which do not make an express proclamation of demanding any moral standard in global politics at all are somehow better.

A recent example is John Pilger who wrote in relation to the intervention to support those wanting to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi and elsewhere in Africa,

    ..the main reason the US is invading Africa is no different from that which ignited the Vietnam war. It is China....Africa is China's success story. Where the Americans bring drones and destabilisation, the Chinese bring roads, bridges and dams. What they want is resources, especially fossil fuels. With Africa's greatest oil reserves, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was one of China's most important sources of fuel.

It would be hard to think how Chinese intervention in Africa on a policy of propping up dictatorships with weapons in order to gain access to natural resources and benefiting from slave labour in certain African states such as Zaire means that this is somehow a "success" story.

The consequence of such blind fury is that any moral criticism of the USA is cancelled out by the fact that it is only the hypocrisy of the USA prating about exporting democracy and freedom whilst really pursuing its interests in securing oil supplies that grates. In which case it would be better pursuing realpolitik in the Chinese "no strings attached" manner

Yet any criticism of the appointed cult guru is seen as bad thinking because fans of Pilger's investigative journalism-much of which is truly valuable-means that any person criticising Pilger can only be doing so through the worst possible motives.

The cheap propaganda trope that one is bound to criticise one's own government first because it is something one can actually do something about, ignores the fact that global diplomacy does not take place in some kind of universe where only the USA dictates and plots events to order.

4) Freedom of Thought against "Political Correctness" and Truth by Authority.

This is connected closely to wish thinking. As certain people have a craving for security, they tend to accept only those ideas which make them feel either superior, self righteous or omniscient. So all global disasters occur because "our" governments are the root cause as opposed to one among many.

Orwell though that it was his duty to stand out as a conscientious individual against any unquestioned orthodoxy. Today that would mean that just because one is critical of British government's foreign policy, that should not mean one has to agree with all those who espouse "anti-war" credos.

Such a position is always met by intolerant hostile derision by those who believe that all anti-war positions are correct but some are more correct than others. In other words, that to criticise the British government for Iraq but to criticise Respect and Galloway is to be 'objectively' pro-war.

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